July 31, 2012, 4:31 PM

A showrooming story

How one Yelp review shows consumers do participate in showrooming—even if they don't know it.

I’m training for a half marathon and I needed a new pair of running shoes. Going against the grain of precisely what helps me make my livelihood as a reporter—e-commerce—I was set on buying them in a store.

Now, I know there are many sophisticated tactics online retailers employ to help runners nab the right pair of kicks (some even let you send in a video of yourself running to analyze your stride and gait). But when it comes to my precious running shoes, which will spend many an intimate mile with me, I like to run in and around a physical store before I make my selections, testing out several pairs. Usually by the time I’ve put the salesperson through all my hemming and hawing, I feel bad going online and ordering the same pair for $15 bucks less.

Others, it appears, don’t.

In my quest for a store that would help me find sneakers that suited my wide foot and midfoot strike, I went to Yelp.com to check out neighborhood shoe store reviews. It was there—in the very first review—that I saw that showrooming does exist. And it was clear that yes—it could be forcing local mom-and-pop, family-owned businesses to try and match the prices of web behemoths like Amazon.com, lest they lose a sale.

The review was for the Chicago-based Alamo shoe store. And, it read as follows:

“Being a nurse who is on his feet for 12-hour shifts, I need extremely comfortable, durable shoes—and would pay a pretty penny for them.  I began touching every shoe I could get my hands on and the employee Tony stopped me and asked me what I was looking for.  I gave him the scoop and he was extremely helpful in finding the perfect shoes...mind you, a New Balance pair that even matched my tacky yellow scrub top and white see-through pants!  I was given the opportunity to try on several pairs of shoes at my own pace while walking on the various floor types around the store….”

Great. This store sounded like it would put up with me spending an hour trying (and retrying) on the same four pairs of New Balances.

But then came the real kicker:

“Since I am a crafty beaver, I pulled up Zappos and Amazon on my cell phone to see what the same shoes were priced at online.  Since they were cheaper on Amazon.com, Alamo matched the competitor's price and gave me the same deal of $85 (saving me $15!).”

There it was. My poof that showrooming is happening—by consumers who likely have never even heard of the term. And, sadly, at least to me, times are changing and Alamo can’t get by with charging a little more for great in-store customer service.

Sitting in my office each day, I often wonder if all the news stories and press releases I read to stay up on industry trends really apply to everyday life. In the case of showrooming it is looking like they just might.

And I didn’t even get past the first review.

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